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Sacred Headwaters At Risk From Big Oil

Originally published: September 08, 2011

I have lived in British Columbia all my life. I have travelled to many countries, all of them full of beauty, but my favorite trip is still the road from Terrace, BC to Prince Rupert, BC along the mighty Skeena River.

The river is 570 km long, the second largest in the province, it is the home of 5 million spawning salmon and the largest population of steelhead in the world. The river derives its name from the Tsimshian 'Xsan, meaning "water out of the clouds" or “the river of mists.” The river is of such importance to the people who depend on it for their own sustenance that they derive their names from the river itself, Tsimshian and the Gitxsan - whose names mean "inside the Skeena River" and "people of the Skeena River"

This river and two others, the Nass and Stikine, which form what is known as the Sacred Headwaters, are being threatened by big oil. The website, states,

"Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill more than 1,000 coalbed methane gas wells in the Sacred Headwaters, threatening communities, wildlife and wild salmon. Concerned citizens from around the world are calling for steps to safeguard the Sacred Headwaters from Shell's gas drilling. This summer the International League of Conservation Photographers has been lending their honed expertise and incomparable imagery to the fight for some of Western Canada’s most treasured landscape."

In October of this year Greystone Books will release the book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass, by Wade Davis. The book will highlight the importance of these three rivers as the life line of the salmon run and in turn the First Nations people that have called this area home for untold generations. Through arresting images from photographers of the International League of Conservation and National Geographic, and poignant text from Wade Davis, the book aims to question the intelligence of our continued, unbridled quest for finite resources – oil and gas -- and our heedless destruction of irreplaceable necessities like fresh air and water.

According to their website, The International League of Conservation Photographers’ mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography.

“The ILCP work with leading scientists, policy makers, government leaders and conservation groups to produce the highest-quality documentary images of both the beauty and wonder of the natural world and the challenges facing it.”

One of the ILCP’s latest projects includes the film Spoil, which highlights another fight facing Coastal British Columbia’s diverse and fragile environment; Enbridge Inc’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline which will run right through the ancient Great Bear rainforest.

The Great Bear Rainforest, located in the islands off the north-central coast of British Columbia, is one of the largest tracts of temperate rainforest left in the world (2 million hectares), and is home to thousands of species of plants, birds and mammals. In this lush rainforest stand 1,000-year-old cedar trees and 90-metre tall Sitka spruce trees. It is home to the Kermode or Spirit Bear, a rare white black bear. ( The project proposes to pipe Alberta tar sands crude to Kitimat, to be shipped to Asia in supertankers that would navigate the perilous channels and inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest—the world’s largest intact temperate coastal rainforest. In response to the threat of turning the forest into an expressway for oil tankers the ILCP teamed up with the Gitga’at Nation of British Columbia to document the Great Bear Rainforest before it is changed forever.

As described on the ICLP website:

"The 14-day expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest called upon 7 world-renowned photographers and 3 videographers to thoroughly document the region’s landscapes, wildlife, and culture. The RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) provided media support to the First Nations and environmental groups seeking to stop the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline project (and thus expansion of the tar sands) and to expose the plan to lift the oil tanker ship moratorium."

The ICLP believe that awe-inspiring photography is a powerful force for the environment, especially when paired with the collaboration of committed scientists, politicians, cultural leaders, and policy makers. Their aim is to replace environmental indifference with a new culture of stewardship and passion for our beautiful planet.

Please take some time to watch the video, if we don’t take time to educate ourselves and pass it on, a video may be all we have left of this majestic place.

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